Seattle Land Use and Real Estate & COVID-19
We know everyone is feeling unease about the current state of the world and there is a lot of information about the Covid-19 pandemic and the measures federal, local and state governments are taking to mitigate the economic impact. To help you understand the effects on the real estate markets, we offer the following information:
The City of Seattle has placed a 60-day moratorium on residential evictions other than in circumstances where the tenant is an imminent danger to the public or other tenants. A 60-day moratorium also has been placed on evictions of small businesses (independently owned and less than 50 employees per location) and non-profits without exception. These moratoria include evictions for non-payment, failure to perform other obligations, or holding over after expiration of a lease. Even if an unlawful detainer action has been filed, prosecution of the action must discontinue until the end of the moratorium. Landlords are allowed to accumulate amounts owed but are not to assess late fees. Landlords of small business and non-profits are encouraged to enter work-out agreements to mitigate the impact of the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, the King County Sheriff has suspended service of eviction orders until further notice in order to protect their officers and redirect resources.
At the state level, on March 18, 2020, Governor Inslee announced a 30-day ban on residential evictions across the State of Washington.
This means that eviction will not be an option for landlords for some time.
Recording of property sales and other documents is still occurring, but is limited to e-recording online. Given a reduction in staffing at most government offices, there may be a delay in receiving recording numbers. Additional delays may occur if the recording office has issues with the recording.
The Washington Supreme Court has ordered that all civil matters be continued until at least April 24. This means that civil jury trials will be delayed until at least June. Presumably, case schedules and filing deadlines for pending motions will be revised to reflect the continuance.
Other Litigation Processes
Expect that depositions will be scheduled or rescheduled out a month or two. Under certain circumstances, conducting a deposition remotely could avoid this delay. Responses to other discovery requests may not be affected.
In-person intake of permits is suspended for now, but online applications are being accepted in Seattle and King County. It appears permit applications are still being processed, but that may change suddenly. It is unclear whether inspections are continuing or how long they will continue.
Seattle Building Code
The City of Seattle has delayed adoption of the 2018 Seattle Building Code from Wednesday, July 1 to Sunday, November 1, 2020. A complete application for a project using the 2015 Seattle Building Code must be submitted and paid for no later than Friday, October 30, 2020.
For Seattle, documents must be filed electronically. All conferences and hearings will be held by conference call or Skype.
Businesses that suffer economic losses due to COVID-19 and are unable to absorb the losses, may apply for SBA emergency loans through the State of Washington.
Check to see if you have an endorsement that includes losses caused by pandemics. Without the endorsement, most policies for business operations won’t cover such losses.
Deferred Tax Payments
It may be possible to defer payment of state and city B&O taxes. The deadline for federal income tax filings and payments is extended by 90 days. As of today, there is no extension for property tax payments due April 30th. Please check with your appropriate jurisdiction for more details about possible deferments.
Seattle City Light, SPU and other utilities, such as PSE, are providing some relief from utility bills. Deferred payment plans will be considered, late payments will be forgiven, and service will not be disconnected for the duration of this crisis. Some tenants may be eligible for a reduction in utility charges. Please check with your local utility.
The City of Seattle is providing an additional $800 to families already eligible for current support programs such as City-supported child care and food assistance programs.
The City of Seattle is still considering rent assistance and assistance to landlords. We will monitor developments on these fronts and provide updates as we learn of them. In the meantime, you should consider reaching out to your lender or landlord to discuss your options for adjusting loan payments or rent should cash flow become a concern for you.
The Employment Security Department is prepared to process applications quickly and have relaxed rules for those who have been laid off or are in quarantine.
Please keep in mind that these are state and local measures for the most part. We are still waiting to see the federal government’s full response to the pandemic. More relief in the form of extended unemployment benefits, loans, and, perhaps, direct payments have been proposed.
As for limiting the spread of the virus and keeping your employees and tenants safe, the following are some recommended steps to take. Many of these you’ve seen before, but they bear repeating.
For your employees or contractors not working from home:
- Require them to wash their hands often using hot water and soap or hand sanitizer.
- Have an adequate supply of both available for them.
- Advise them not to touch their faces with unwashed hands.
- Remind them to cough into a tissue or into their shirt sleeve
- Encourage them to stay at least 6 feet away from anyone at all times (“social distancing”)
- If they are sick or not feeling well, send them home and tell them to stay there until 48 hours after they get better.
- Require them to carry antibacterial wipes with them, and to wipe off any surface they touch after they have touched it.
Provide notice to your tenants of the following:
- Wash hands often with soap and water. If soap and water is not available, use hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home if you are sick and avoid contact with others.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing.
- Wash your hands as soon as you walk through the door of your home and before you leave.
- Wipe down any surface you touch with antibacterial tissues or antibacterial spray
- Avoid crowds and reduce social contact.
- Have enough daily necessities and shelf-stable food to last at least one week.
- Stock extra water or hydrating drinks.
- Stock food in the event you get sick, such as soup, broth, crackers or honey.
- Have a sufficient supply of pain and fever medication on hand.
- Have an adequate supply of cough drops, cough medication.
- Have an adequate supply of prescription medications.
- Have an adequate supply of tissues and household cleaners.
- If you suspect that you have coronavirus, please contact the Manager immediately.
- Designate a friend or a neighbor as a contact person.
Some other things to consider:
- You may want to have some masks on hand, just in case a resident contracts coronavirus.
- You may want to consider facilitating a list of residents who might be willing to help others in the event someone gets sick.
- Assist tenants in accessing government resources that mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic such as unemployment benefits, rent assistance, food vouchers, etc.
- Many of your residents are probably being asked to telecommute. You may want to think about policies that makes it easier for them to do so.
- During a turnover, make sure that someone does a “deep cleaning” of the unit. Document that this has been done on the “walk-through” you do with the new tenant.
- Post a notice to tenants similar to the following:[Name of your community.] is gravely concerned for your safety, and we will be taking whatever actions are necessary to minimize your potential exposure to this pandemic. These will include but may not be limited to the following:
- The main office will be only available by appointment only. We reserve the right to decline to meet with anyone showing symptoms of coronavirus.
- Our maintenance crews will be sanitizing all common areas on a regular basis.
- Hand sanitizers and other cleaning supplies will be available in all common areas (assuming you can find some)
- No more than 10 residents will be allowed to congregate in any one location. We reserve the right to close all common areas in the complex.
- All garbage and other refuse must be bagged, sealed and placed in covered garbage receptacles.
- Residents who are quarantined may need assistance with obtaining essential items such as food, medicine, and other such necessities. Please consider assisting your neighbors meet these needs.We reserve the right to modify these actions as necessary to protect your health, safety and welfare.
Of course, guidance and mitigation measures regarding this pandemic are changing rapidly. We will attempt to keep you posted about the crucial developments as we learn of them. Until then, please reach out to any of our attorneys if you have questions about responses to and impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. We stand ready to help.